Navigating the Journey of Relationship Growth

Navigating the Journey of Relationship Growth

I am a senior by today’s standards, but not yet old.  I have lived long enough to realize how much we grow in our adult years. It is not the same development we experienced in our twenties, thirties, and even forties when we were focused on establishing a career and family. During those decades, we focus on the heroic activity of creating our life, defining our vocation, and taking on major life responsibilities.


Succeeding in establishing a partner relationship opens us to new opportunities for emotional and psychological experience. Friendships can contribute to this development, too. However, the intensity of the partnership relationship is unique and leads to growth in sharing and intimate reflection, as well as tension due to inevitable differences and misunderstandings.


One of the messages I look to highlight in our Falling in Love Forever course is how much we can grow emotionally and in wisdom through our relationship with our partner. This learning is not like reading a book or going to school. It is a process of listening, sharing, giving and receiving feedback, making requests, getting in and out of disagreements efficiently and respectfully, and stretching to see another’s point of view. It is constantly learning about ourselves and managing our emotions when we speak. It is ultimately about refining our character and personality over time. It is a courageous adventure and can produce refinements not unlike the friction that produces a diamond.


What we provide in our classes are skills that minimize friction. We also lead our couples to see a smoother path to this development. We have differences with our partner as we develop from our initial attachment and cooperative attitude with each other to more independent work and full-time parenting. This often has us out of sync with each other, where different needs pull at the relationship and create conflict.  When both partners work outside the home, their independence creates a similar but different tension as they shift from their exclusive attention to the relationship in favor of their career success and the busyness involved in keeping work and family life together.  Each phase presents a stretch that can be challenging if you don’t know how to sensitively share feelings and needs and keep talking until you can figure out how to make life work for your partnership as well as your children.


Michael and I experienced our version of these stages. We married at 20 and 21. We were both focused on training for our careers.  and we were able to do that in the same city.  Eventually, Michael’s training took him to new locations, and I chose to accommodate to his geography by adapting my program to where he worked. By the time I was 25 years old, I was eager to have babies. My grandmother had passed away, and I yearned for more family. I paused my academic work with a Master’s degree and followed Michael wherever his career took him. I was able to accommodate Michael’s plans for a couple of years because I was not driven by goals at the time.


Eventually, I woke up to my individuality and felt trapped by the domestic life I had chosen. We had a lot of conflict during those years because I was no longer so agreeable with Michael’s plans, and he was used to leading. I also wanted him to be more sensitive to my feelings because the years of his professional training had made him more competent but also more self-centered. 


After five years as a full-time mother, I had a strong desire to go back to school to get a Ph.D. in counseling as I felt trapped by continuously following Michael’s needs and the needs of my children as much as I love them. With Michael’s agreement, we moved to Southern California, and I went back to school. My new, more independent self caused a lot of friction with Michael’s independent self. While we were developing as individuals, our relationship was greatly challenged. 


It was a complete serendipity that my supervisor at St. Joseph Hospital took a personal interest in my development. He became my mentor and introduced me to the possibility of getting on the other side of this power struggle. He also connected with Michael and loved us both. He wasn’t able to lead us the whole way, but I found other mentors who supported us in re-establishing our partnership with new behaviors and a fresh understanding of how man-woman relationships work. Both Michael and I had parents who were happy couples, but we did not know how to get there ourselves. I am so grateful to my mentors for showing me the way, and I have committed myself to being a mentor for others because our culture does not teach or model the behaviors that make partnership work.


What we learned from our mentors is what Michael and I teach in our Falling in Love Forever course. Your personal development will inevitably collide with your partner’s. This requires a re-configuring of your relationship.  How to do it?   It is all about how you speak and listen to each other. You can grow your relationship and help each other become better people and better partners over time. The art of listening and speaking can enhance your relationship and improve other areas of your life, such as your interactions with your children, customers, co-workers, and friends. Good listening is a foundation for good responses.

Understanding what you want and respecting both yourself and your partner is key. 


Research says that adults in all cultures are happiest as they reach sixty years old.  That represents many decades of stretching and learning how to be loving people and caring partners. It takes time and practice through many challenges to learn to share openly, manage negative feelings rationally and calmly, and maintain respect for yourself and your partner at all times for the relationship you want.


We want that for you, and you can have that before you are 60 years old if you are willing to learn skills and practice until you can apply your new skills consistently. Join us for our Falling in Love Forever course.